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Healthy Holiday Substitutions

Festive recipes that are delicious, yet avoid high fats and loads of sugar.

People outside at a table eating healthy holiday substitutions

From the time Halloween arrives to that last glass of New Year’s bubbly, we are bombarded with occasions that call for sweets, alcohol and other decadent goodies that can make the last few months of the year a challenge for even the most disciplined of eaters. Getting through the holidays shouldn’t be about avoidance and restriction. It should be about enjoying yourself in a healthy way. Try these tasty healthy holiday substitutions from Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, spokesperson, recipe and product developer, author, and educator. Gellman creates, produces, and hosts cooking and nutrition videos. Her cookbooks include The Mediterranean DASH Diet, Mediterranean Pressure and Instant Pot Mediterranean Diet.

Bite-Size Grape-Cheese Balls

These fun appetizers are a throwback to the 1970s and clock in at only 100 calories per serving. Makes 30 balls; two balls per serving.

5 oz goat cheese

4 oz cream cheese

4 T minced chives, divided

1 t honey

18 t black pepper

30 red seedless grapes

½ C chopped walnuts

Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, 1 T minced chives, honey and pepper thoroughly in a bowl. Set aside remaining chives. Using about 1 T of cheese mix, place one grape in the middle, forming cheese mixture around grape into a ball shape. Place each grape cheese ball on a plate lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1–2 hours. Before serving, place remaining chives in one bowl and walnuts in a second bowl. Roll half the cheese balls in remaining chives and the other half in walnuts until evenly coated. Serve.

Apricot Gelt

A longstanding Hanukkah tradition is to give children chocolate gelt—“coins” made of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. Here’s one of the best healthy holiday substitutions and a fruity twist on Hanukkah gelt: dried apricots dipped in chocolate and garnished with sea salt for a sweet and salty treat. A great ending for all! Makes about 6 dozen (12 servings; six pieces per person).

1½ lb dried apricots

1 lb dark-chocolate chips

1 T sea salt

Using heavy skillet or mallet, flatten apricots to about ¼-inch thick and set aside. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring and scraping down sides between, until chocolate is just melted. Dip each apricot in chocolate, coating ½–¾ of the apricot. Place on wire racks set over parchment or waxed paper, sprinkle with sea salt, and let stand until set. Transfer apricots to baking sheets lined with parchment or waxed paper and refrigerate until firm. Can be refrigerated in airtight container up to 3 days.

Berries and Mascarpone

This fiber-packed dessert will satisfy your sweet tooth. Makes six servings.

1 lb mixed berries, strawberries halved

¾ C mascarpone

1 oz aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic syrup

12 mint leaves

Spoon mascarpone onto plate. Top with berries. Garnish with balsamic syrup/reduction and mint.

Note: For a buffet, have large bowls of berries and mint with smaller bowls of mascarpone and syrup/reduction on the side.

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